Texas sues Sony BMG for spyware violations


Texas files spyideware lawsuit  - CNN TV Streaming video

Sony Spyware in Computers - FOX TV Save as or Open - Streaming Video

EFF, Texas Attorney General Sue Sony

4Law 21/11/05 - Greg Abbott, the attorney general for Texas, today filed a lawsuit against Sony BMG Music Entertainment, alleging that its controversial (and now recalled) "XCP" anti-piracy software violates the state's anti-spyware and consumer protection laws.

"Sony has engaged in a technological version of cloak and dagger deceit against consumers by hiding secret files on their computers," Abbott is quoted as saying in a press release on his official Web site. "Consumers who purchased a Sony CD thought they were buying music. Instead, they received spyware that can damage a computer, subject it to viruses and expose the consumer to possible identity crime."

Abbott's suit seeks civil penalties of $100,000 for each violation of the law, attorneys’ fees and investigative costs.      

At $100,000 per violation, this lawsuit could really hit Sony's pocketbook hard. Last week, computer security researcher    Dan Kaminsky published research showing that Sony's flawed anti-piracy software is installed in computers on at least 560,000 networks around the globe. Kaminsky said that if there were on average just two machines on each network running the anti-piracy software, the number of computers currently endangered by Sony's products could number in the millions. 

EFF Takes Action Against   Sony BMG

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a class-action lawsuit against Sony BMG Entertainment on Monday through which it is demanding that the company further address problems related to the controversial "rootkit"-style copy-protection mechanism that it shipped on an estimated 24 million music CDs.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior court, alleges that two different types of rootkit DRM (digital rights management) software have been installed on the computers of "millions of unsuspecting music customers" when they played affected CDs on devices running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system

Mark  Russinovich  Blog -  Discovered the Crooks



Monday, October 31, 2005

Sony, Rootkits and Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far


Last week when I was testing the latest version of RootkitRevealer (RKR) I ran a scan on one of my systems and was shocked to see evidence of a rootkit. Rootkits are cloaking technologies that hide files, Registry keys, and other system objects from diagnostic and security software, and they are usually employed by malware attempting to keep their implementation hidden (see my “Unearthing Rootkits” article from thre June issue of Windows IT Pro Magazine for more information on rootkits). The RKR results window reported a hidden directory, several hidden device drivers, and a hidden application:

Given the fact that I’m careful in my surfing habits and only install software from reputable sources I had no idea how I’d picked up a real rootkit, and if it were not for the suspicious names of the listed files I would have suspected RKR to have a bug. I immediately ran Process Explorer and Autoruns to look for evidence of code that would activate the rootkit each boot, but I came up empty with both tools. I next turned to LiveKd, a tool I wrote for Inside Windows 2000 and that lets you explore the internals of a live system using the Microsoft kernel debugger, to determine what component was responsible for the cloaking.

Rootkits that hide files, directories and Registry keys can either execute in user mode by patching Windows APIs in each process that applications use to access those objects, or in kernel mode by intercepting the associated kernel-mode APIs. A common way to intercept kernel-mode application APIs is to patch the kernel’s system service table, a technique that I pioneered with Bryce for Windows back in 1996 when we wrote the first version of Regmon. Every kernel service that’s exported for use by Windows applications has a pointer in a table that’s indexed with the internal service number Windows assigns to the API. If a driver replaces an entry in the table with a pointer to its own function then the kernel invokes the driver function any time an application executes the API and the driver can control the behavior of the API.

It’s relatively easy to spot system call hooking simply by dumping the contents of the service table: all entries should point at addresses that lie within the Windows kernel; any that don’t are patched functions. Dumping the table in Livekd revealed several patched functions:

I listed one of the intercepting functions and saw that it was part of the Aries.sys device driver, which was one of the images I had seen cloaked in the $sys$filesystem directory:

Armed with the knowledge of what driver implemented the cloaking I set off to see if I could disable the cloak and expose the hidden processes, files, directories, and Registry data. Although RKR indicated that the \Windows\System32\$sys$filesystem directory was hidden from the Windows API, it’s common for rootkits to hide directories from a directory listing, but not to prevent a hidden directory from being opened directly. I therefore checked to see if I could examine the files within the hidden directory by opening a command prompt and changing into the hidden directory. Sure enough, I was able to enter and access most of the hidden files:

Perhaps renaming the driver and rebooting would remove the cloak, but I also wanted to see if Aries.sys was doing more than cloaking so I copied it to an uncloaked directory and loaded it into IDA Pro, a powerful disassembler I use in my exploration of Windows internals. Here’s a screenshot of IDA Pro’s disassembly of the code that calculates the entries in the system service table that correspond to the functions it wants to manipulate:

I studied the driver’s initialization function, confirmed that it patches several functions via the system call table and saw that its cloaking code hides any file, directory, Registry key or process whose name begins with “$sys$”. To verify that I made a copy of Notepad.exe named $sys$notepad.exe and it disappeared from view. Besides being indiscriminate about the objects it cloaks, other parts of the Aries code show a lack of sophistication on the part of the programmer. It’s never safe to unload a driver that patches the system call table since some thread might be just about to execute the first instruction of a hooked function when the driver unloads; if that happens the thread will jump into invalid memory. There’s no way for a driver to protect against this occurrence, but the Aries driver supports unloading and tries to keep track of whether any threads are executing its code. The programmer failed to consider the race condition I’ve described. They’ll have to come up with a new approach to their rootkit sooner or later anyway, since system call hooking does not work at all on x64 64-bit versions of Windows.

After I finished studying the driver's code I rebooted the system. The cloak was gone as I expected and I could see all the previously hidden files in Explorer and Registry keys in Regedit. I doubted that the files had any version information, but ran my Sigcheck utility on them anyway. To my surprise, the majority did have identifying product, file and company strings. I had already recognized Dbghelp.dll and Unicows.dll as Microsoft Windows DLLs by their names. The other files claimed to be part of the “Essential System Tools” product from a company called “First 4 Internet”:

I entered the company name into my Internet browser’s address bar and went to http://www.first4internet.com/. I searched for both the product name and Aries.sys, but came up empty. However, the fact that the company sells a technology called XCP made me think that maybe the files I’d found were part of some content protection scheme. I Googled the company name and came across this article, confirming the fact that they have deals with several record companies, including Sony, to implement Digital Rights Management (DRM) software for CDs.

The DRM reference made me recall having purchased a CD recently that can only be played using the media player that ships on the CD itself and that limits you to at most 3 copies. I scrounged through my CD’s and found it, Sony BMG’s Get Right with the Man (the name is ironic under the circumstances) CD by the Van Zant brothers. I hadn’t noticed when I purchased the CD from Amazon.com that it’s protected with DRM software, but if I had looked more closely at the text on the Amazon.com web page I would have known:

The next phase of my investigation would be to verify that the rootkit and its hidden files were related to that CD’s copy protection, so I inserted the CD into the drive and double-clicked on the icon to launch the player software, which has icons for making up to three copy-protected backup CDs:

Process Explorer showed the player as being from Macromedia, but I noticed an increase in CPU usage by $sys$DRMServer.exe, one of the previously cloaked images, when I pressed the play button. A look at the Services tab of its process properties dialog showed it contains a service named “Plug and Play Device Manager”, which is obviously an attempt to mislead the casual user that stumbles across it in the Services MMC snapin (services.msc) into thinking that it’s a core part of Windows:

I closed the player and expected $sys$DRMServer’s CPU usage to drop to zero, but was dismayed to see that it was still consuming between one and two percent. It appears I was paying an unknown CPU penalty for just having the process active on my system. I launched Filemon and Regmon to see what it might be doing and the Filemon trace showed that it scans the executables corresponding to the running processes on the system every two seconds, querying basic information about the files, including their size, eight times each scan. I was quickly losing respect for the developers of the software:

I still had to confirm the connection between the process and the CD’s player so I took a closer look at each process. Based on the named pipe handles I saw they each had opened when I looked in Process Explorer’s handle view I suspected that the player and $sys$DRMServer communicated via named pipes and so I launched Filemon, checked Named Pipes in the Volumes menu, and confirmed my theory:

At that point I knew conclusively that the rootkit and its associated files were related to the First 4 Internet DRM software Sony ships on its CDs. Not happy having underhanded and sloppily written software on my system I looked for a way to uninstall it. However, I didn’t find any reference to it in the Control Panel’s Add or Remove Programs list, nor did I find any uninstall utility or directions on the CD or on First 4 Internet’s site. I checked the EULA and saw no mention of the fact that I was agreeing to have software put on my system that I couldn't uninstall. Now I was mad.

I deleted the driver files and their Registry keys, stopped the $sys$DRMServer service and deleted its image, and rebooted. As I was deleting the driver Registry keys under HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services I noted that they were either configured as boot-start drivers or members of groups listed by name in the HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\SafeBoot subkeys, which means that they load even in Safe Mode, making system recovery extremely difficult if any of them have a bug that prevents the system from booting.

When I logged in again I discovered that the CD drive was missing from Explorer. Deleting the drivers had disabled the CD. Now I was really mad. Windows supports device “filtering”, which allows a driver to insert itself below or above another one so that it can see and modify the I/O requests targeted at the one it wants to filter. I know from my past work with device driver filter drivers that if you delete a filter driver’s image, Windows fails to start the target driver. I opened Device Manager, displayed the properties for my CD-ROM device, and saw one of the cloaked drivers, Crater.sys (another ironic name, since it had ‘cratered’ my CD), registered as a lower filter:

Unfortunately, although you can view the names of registered filter drivers in the “Upper filters” and “Lower filters” entries of a device’s Details tab in Device Manager, there’s no administrative interface for deleting filters. Filter registrations are stored in the Registry under HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Enum so I opened Regedit and searched for $sys$ in that key. I found the entry configuring the CD’s lower filter:

I deleted the entry, but got an access-denied error. Those keys have security permissions that only allow the Local System account to modify them, so I relaunched Regedit in the Local System account using PsExec: psexec –s –i –d regedit.exe. I retried the delete, succeeded, and searched for $sys$ again. Next I found an entry configuring another one of the drivers, Cor.sys (internally named Corvus), as an upper filter for the IDE channel device and also deleted it. I rebooted and my CD was back.

The entire experience was frustrating and irritating. Not only had Sony put software on my system that uses techniques commonly used by malware to mask its presence, the software is poorly written and provides no means for uninstall. Worse, most users that stumble across the cloaked files with a RKR scan will cripple their computer if they attempt the obvious step of deleting the cloaked files.

While I believe in the media industry’s right to use copy protection mechanisms to prevent illegal copying, I don’t think that we’ve found the right balance of fair use and copy protection, yet. This is a clear case of Sony taking DRM too far.

For an update on the story, read More on Sony: Dangerous Decloaking Patch, EULAs and Phoning Home.

posted by Mark Russinovich @ 11:04 AM



EFF Files Class Action Lawsuit Against Sony BMG

 November 21, 2005

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), along with two leading national class action law firms, today filed a lawsuit against Sony BMG, demanding that the company repair the damage done by the First4Internet XCP and SunnComm MediaMax software it included on over 24 million music CDs.
SonyBMG Litigation page

Copy protection notice on a CD

Click here for a guide to
spotting CDs affected by
XCP and MediaMax


Attorney General Abbott Brings First Enforcement Action In Nation Against Sony Bmg For Spyware Violations

Hidden technology allegedly makes computers vulnerable to viruses and hacking

Monday, November 21, 2005

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today sued Sony BMG Music Entertainment as the first state in the nation to bring legal action against SONY for illegal “spyware.” The suit is also the first filed under the state’s spyware law of 2005. It alleges the company surreptitiously installed the spyware on millions of compact music discs (CDs) that consumers inserted into their computers when they play the CDs, which can compromise the systems.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges the New York-based company violated a new Texas law protecting consumers from the hidden spyware. The company accomplished this by using new technology on certain music CDs to install files onto consumers’ computers that hide other files installed by Sony. This secret “cloaking” component is installed without the knowledge of consumers and can cause their computers to become vulnerable to computer viruses and other forms of attack.

“Sony has engaged in a technological version of cloak and dagger deceit against consumers by hiding secret files on their computers,” said Attorney General Abbott. “Consumers who purchased a Sony CD thought they were buying music. Instead, they received spyware that can damage a computer, subject it to viruses and expose the consumer to possible identity crime.”

Sony insists on its Web site that it has recalled all affected CDs. However, Attorney General’s investigators were able to purchase numerous titles at Austin retail stores as recently as Sunday evening.

According to Sony’s Web site, the company recently distributed millions of CDs across the nation on 52 CDs by various artists. These CDs contained embedded files used for copy protection – or XCP technology. The files prompt consumers to enter into a user agreement to install Sony’s audio player. By opting into the agreement, which Sony represents is the only way a consumer can listen to these CDs on a computer,  the consumer is unaware that Sony secretly installs files into the computer’s Microsoft Windows folders. Consumers are unable to detect and remove these files.

Sony BMG claims on its Web site that this XCP technology merely prevents unlimited copying, is otherwise passive and does not gather personal information about a computer user. However, the Attorney General’s investigation into this technology revealed that it remains hidden and active at all times after installation, even when Sony’s media player is inactive, prompting concerns about its true purpose.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit also alleges that a phantom file is installed to conceal the XCP files from the user, thus making it difficult for the user to remove the files from his or her computer.

Moreover, recent news accounts allege that newly created viruses that exploit this phantom file have been spreading. A user unfamiliar with installation – and removal – of this technology may be vulnerable to new security risks and possibly identity theft.

Because of alleged violations of the Consumer Protection Against Computer Spyware Act of 2005, the Attorney General is seeking civil penalties of $100,000 for each violation of the law, attorneys’ fees and investigative costs.



Lawsuit Against Sony BMG - PDF